I've been a fan of Yahoo since the beginning of time (or at least since Web history began).
I've always thought of its roots as being a media company. Media in the new sense of the world. A directory, a trusted source, a creator, collector, and curator.
Along the way, I've felt loyal to various Yahoo products and initiatives. But at the same time, I've watched from the sidelines as the company zigged and zagged, from content to technology, from being a network to trying to compete in search and ad network services.
Lloyd Braun was brought in -- there was an early and ill-fated attempt to engage as a media company. Carol Bartz certainly made a number of moves that looked like media, but her lack of background (and some would say passion) made those moves seem half-hearted.
You can go back in a time machine and debate whether Yahoo should have been more or less of a tech company in its various incarnations, but that's rather pointless. The time is now, and the opportunity is about looking forward, not back.
Today, Yahoo is being led by Ross Levinsohn, the first CEO with real media chops in a very long time. Levinsohn was previously President of Fox Interactive Media. He launched CBS Sportsline, and was co-founder and managing director of Fuse Capital, a venture fund with a focus on digital media.
For a glimpse into where Yahoo may be headed, just listen to what Levinsohn said at this year's NATPE conference in Miami.
"In online there's no scarcity of video, what's scarce is high-quality video. That's where our focus is. Sometimes we'll partner, as with ABC, and other times we'll create on our own."
What Ross is saying -- clearly -- is that Yahoo is in the unique position to be both the creator and curator of high-quality video. Clearly that's something that he's uniquely situated to deliver. And in terms of revenue streams, Levinsohn is looking at more than just advertising revenue. There's a subscription play down the road as well. "Today Yahoo is all ad-supported, but in the future for video we need to have a dual-revenue stream model of ads and subscription, transactions or something else."
But he's not looking backwards, at a straight-up media model. Because of his background at FIM, he understands that the folks with the most data win. "Data is critical to everything we do. It helps take the risk out of programming decisions by helping inform us about what's likely to succeed. But you can't solely rely on data, you still need to follow your instinct."
And while Scott Thompson -- the now-ousted CEO -- was famous for saying that he didn't much understand advertising or media, Levinsohn understands both. And he's careful not to over-promise and under-deliver. "Regarding online video advertising growth, I'm not expecting a hockey stick effect, but rather a double-digit percent shift over the next few years. It's just a matter of time."
Now that he's got the whole ball of wax reporting to him, Levinsohn is uniquely suited to bring the promise of Yahoo's audience, brand, and technology together to form a truly modern media company.
Says Levinsohn, "Our approach is different, we're not starting 50 channels, rather we're focusing just on the ones our audience cares about. We can tell what's popular on Yahoo and translate that into our programming. We want to get behind really unique voices. Genres that work well are reality and scripted, though with a different approach. Two-way interaction is very important. More challenging is news because the cycles are so short. And the last bastion of traditional TV will be sports."
All of a sudden, Dan Loeb looks more like a visionary and less like a troublemaker. Of course, stockholders will ultimately decide. But today, Yahoo employees and stockholder must be breathing a collective sigh of relief. Now they can chart a course.
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